No region of New York has been home to more immigrants than the East Side between the Brooklyn Bridge  and Houston Street. Various ethnic groups have lived here over the years, including the Irish, Germans, and freed blacks in the mid-1800s; and the Italians and especially the Jews in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Around the turn of the 20th century, more than 700 people per acre lived on the Lower East Side, making it the second-most-crowded place in the world, after Bombay.
Today, the district is still home to small enclaves of Jews and Italians, but it is the Chinese population that has exploded. On an island quickly becoming homogenized by white-collar professionals, this is one of the few districts left where you can see and feel the immigrant vibrancy that once characterized much of Manhattan .
The Chinese began arriving in New York in the late 1870s. Many were former transcontinental railroad workers who came to escape the violent persecution they were encountering on the West Coast. But they weren’t exactly welcomed on the East Coast either. Pushed out of a wide variety of occupations, they were forced to enter low-status service work—part of the reason they established so many laundries. Manhattan’s Chinese population has grown to an estimated 100,000.
Chinatown , Little Italy , and parts of the Lower East Side are the sorts of neighborhoods where you can have a great time wandering haphazardly about, going nowhere in particular. Especially in Chinatown, the streets teem with jostling crowds and exotic markets. Chinatown’s central street is Mott, just below Canal. What’s left of Little Italy is centered on Mulberry Street just north of Canal. Orchard Street was once the heart of the Lower East Side.
Many New Yorkers visit Chinatown for lunch or dinner, and then head to Little Italy for dessert in one of its pastry shops. Orchard Street is at its liveliest on Sunday afternoons.